Spinal Cord Stimulation for Chronic Pain
Everything that's Old is New Again

Spinal cord stimulation is the latest rendition of an ancient technique for controlling pain.

Electrical stimulation has been used for centuries to try and control pain.
There is evidence that the 
ancient Egyptians used electric fish to stop pain.






TENS Units

In recent years TENS Units (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) have become popular.

These small units use a small generator with wires attached to small electrodes that you place on your skin in the area of your pain. 

Manipulate the Electrical Signal

These units can manipulate the electrical signal in many different ways to change the sensations that you feel.

You can make the signal stronger or weaker, make it pulsating or constant, and some units allow you to make more technical changes in the electrical wave form.

Within the Spinal Canal

The most modern variations of this pain management technique uses spinal cord stimulation with electrical leads placed directly into the spinal canal to control pain.

They are positioned so that the contacts lie directly on the nerves.

Buzzing or Tingling Sensation

With the electrical contacts positioned in this manner you feel the electrical sensation as a buzzing or tingling in the area of your pain as it blocks the pain signal.

Spinal Cord Stimulator Leads are the
small wires within the spinal canal

Image thanks to Hyung5kim via Wikimedia Commons

There are different theories about how
electrical stimulation affects pain.

•Influences the pain signal

Some researchers contend that electricity blocks or changes the pain signal as it travels to the brain. When using spinal cord stimulation you will feel that buzzing or tingling sensation but you do not feel the pain.

Electrical stimulation seems to work better for neuropathic pain or nerve pain than it does for nociceptive pain like the pain of arthritis. Although some people do find it effective for arthritis pain.

•Gateway Theory of Pain

Some investigators think that feeling the electricity prevents you from feeling the pain.

The Gateway Theory of Pain states that sensations moving through some nerves will block sensations traveling through other nerves. That is why you rub your hand after slamming it in the door.

You feel the rubbing, and that sensation closes the gate and helps to block the feeling of pain. At least that is the theory.

•Stimulates Endorphins Release

Some pain management specialists speculate that electrical stimulation works because it causes the release of endorphins. 

Endorphins are those magic little molecules that are produced by your brain that act similar to morphine. They stimulate the opioid receptors in your brain and relieve pain naturally.

Endorphins are thought to be released by vigorous physical exercise, stress, and pain among other things. 

Some studies have shown higher levels of endorphins with eating chocolate, eating spicy chili peppers, and following acupuncture treatments.

You Can Try Spinal Cord Stimulation Without Surgery

One of the best things about spinal cord stimulation is that most doctors will let you do a five day trial. Small wires are threaded into the spinal canal and you wear the generator on your belt. 

You can turn it on, turn it off, turn it up and turn it down for five days. After five days, you come in and the doctor removes the leads. Then you can decide how well it worked for you.

If you decide on a permanent system it will require a small surgery to place the leads back into the spinal canal and implant the generator under your skin.

Little Risk of Complications

Although the possibility of nerve damage, bleeding, or infection is never zero, spinal cord stimulation has a low risk of side effects or complications when performed by doctor trained in the correct techniques.

It seems that for people suffering with chronic pain that has not been well controlled with medications and other therapies a trial of spinal cord stimulation may be a reasonable alternative.

Maybe these can also help:

E Stim for Back Pain

Neuralgia Treatment Stops Pain

The Autonomic Nervous System is
Your Natural Pain Management System

Ohio State University
Center for Neuromodulation



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